What Makes Buffalo Mozzarella Unique?

When you think of southern Italy, perhaps buffalo roaming the countryside isn't the first image that comes to mind. Yet, the Italian Mediterranean buffalo is responsible for a quintessential Italian food: buffalo mozzarella or mozzarella di bufala, in Italian. In fact, water buffalo have lived in southern Italy, specifically Campania, around Naples, for roughly 1000 years.

Buffalo mozzarella, always made with buffalo milk, is the highest quality mozzarella you can get. The cheese is known for its creamy, rich flavor, typically round in shape and pearl-white in color. Mozzarella is a part of the stretch curd cheese family, which is heated and stretched to make its signature flavor, shape, and texture. The word mozzarella comes from the Italian verb mozzare, which means "to tare."

The Italian Mediterranean buffalo are similar to those that live in Asia and likely originated there, making their way to Italy through the middle east. Traders are thought to have introduced buffalo to Italy in the middle ages. That said, a cheese similar to mozzarella has been made in Italy since Ancient Rome, dating back to the first century CE. The first recording of cheese called "mozza" appeared in the 12th century. The monks of San Lorenzo Monastery in Capua, Campania, served pilgrims bread and mozza as they passed through. Regardless of its origins, the Southern Italian art of making buffalo mozzarella has been honed through centuries of tradition and skill, making it difficult to replicate in other parts of the world.

What is Buffalo Mozzarella?

Buffalo mozzarella is known for its intense flavor and satisfying texture. Buffalo milk has roughly twice the fat found in cows' milk. This extra fat makes the cheese richer, more acidic, and creamier. Buffalo mozzarella is so soft that it rests between liquid and solid.

Buffalo mozzarella is typically shaped into a soft ball but can also be found in smaller pearls. Varieties often have names that note their size, such as perline, ciliegini, and bocconcini (listed smallest to largest). Buffalo mozzarella called "nodini" describes a knotted shape, and "treccia" is a braided variety of the cheese. You can also find flavorful smoked mozzarella with yellow-brown skin and a white interior. Its smoky flavor comes from exposure to straw or laurel smoke.

Buffalo mozzarella is the star ingredient in the famous Neapolitan Margherita pizza. It's also the traditional ingredient of Caprese salad, the simple combination of tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and sliced buffalo mozzarella cheese, originating from the island of Capri. The Caprese salad is a signature Italian dish for its traditional flavors and representation of the Italian flag. If you plan on eating fresh buffalo mozzarella, don't eat it cold, or you'll miss out on the flavors. This rule goes for fior di latte too. If you take mozzarella from the fridge, soak the soak in lukewarm water first.

Where to buy buffalo mozzarella?

There's no way around it, the best buffalo mozzarella cheese comes from Southern Italy. Since the cheese is best eaten fresh, purchasing and eating it as close as possible to where it is made get you the best-tasting buffalo mozzarella the world offers. This is because the Italian Mediterranean buffalo live and thrive in this region, and simulating the right habitat, environment, and diet for the buffalo in other parts of the world is difficult. Also, making buffalo mozzarella is a highly technical process that's been honed by families in Southern Italy for centuries.

If you are purchasing imported buffalo mozzarella in specialty grocery stores or ordering it off an Italian menu, check for Italy's DOC and DOP certifications. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (DOC) certification ensures that the cheese is produced from four regions Campania, Lazio, Apulia, and Molise. Additionally, cheesemakers must use the same traditional recipe and techniques. Denominazione d'Origine Protetta (DOP) certification guarantees that foods are grown, manufactured, and packaged in the same region using traditional methods. 

To get the DOP certification, buffalo mozzarella must be made from the milk of a heard not only in Campania, but the herd has to live on the premises where they make and package the cheese The buffalo eat grains and food also grown on the premises including hay, corn, and other plants. This way, consistency, and incredible flavor are guaranteed.